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Bored? This is anything but tedious


Peter Toohey.JPG
May 24, 2011

Research examines the
benefits of an unappreciated emotion.

Boredom: Children are quick to distastefully proclaim it and
adults are quick to deny it. But University of Calgary Greek and Roman Studies professor
Peter Toohey says there is nothing wrong with boredom after all. In fact, he
credits the unappreciated emotion for inspiring some of the most important
ideas and creative works in history.

If you’ve ever felt fed up and bored and have done something
about it, Toohey, also the author of Boredom:
A Lively History,
says you’ve experienced one of boredom’s benefits.
“Boredom is hard wired into us. Like other emotions, it is adaptive. It exists
to assist human beings to flourish,” says Toohey. “Just as an emotion like
disgust can protect you from eating toxic food, so can boredom protect you from
toxic social circumstances.  It can force
you to act in a self-beneficial way.”

But that’s not all. 
Toohey maintains that boredom intensifies our self-perception by causing
us to step back and to look within ourselves. 
It encourages contemplation, daydreaming and innovation. Andy Warhol
famously claimed to he liked to be bored. 
It may have helped him generate new ideas.

But there is a downside. 

“If unrelieved, boredom is a dangerous emotion. It can
intensify and spill over into a manic angry reaction and from there into
unrelieved depression.  You can witness
this with incarcerated animals and humans,” says Toohey. 

“Boredom is like an early warning system. If you’re feeling
bored you shouldn’t think it’s crazy or silly. 
It’s a proper reaction to circumstances that can be harmful and you need
to remedy them.”

Toohey examines neurological and psychological theories of
boredom. He studies boredom as a stimulus for art and literature, looks at
boredom in cultures as diverse as the Australian Aboriginals and the ancient
Romans, and discusses the role of boredom in literature and art as different as
that of Jeffrey Archer, Albert Camus, the early Christians, as well as Albrecht
Dürer and Edgar Degas.

Boredom: A Lively History was named non-fiction book of the week by The
Times (London), Mail on Sunday (UK) and the
Daily Mail (UK).